Revenue reverses Pierce Transit layoffs, reductions

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by ZAHID ARAB / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on November 20, 2013 at 7:37 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 20 at 7:40 PM

TACOMA, Wash. -- After threats of layoffs and route reductions, Pierce Transit plans to expand thanks to cost cuts and a spike in sales tax collections.

“It is an awesome thing, they finally did something,” said Skyla Bobeck, a bus rider.

With looming cuts, the last few months have been nerve-racking for bus riders like Bobeck, who is in a wheelchair due to a physical challenge.

“There’s one bus stop in front of our place that we have to have. When we saw one of the supervisors putting up a sign saying it was going to be taken out, we were like, um no,” she said.

But budget woes are turning around thanks to good fortune.

“The future is looking bright for Pierce Transit,” said Carol Mitchell, a Pierce Transit spokesperson.

Sales tax revenue, which makes up 70% of the budget, is expected to bring in an additional $1.8 million next year.

“We’re thinking we might end the year about 8% above what we expected,” said Mitchell.

According to Mitchell, consolidations and creative thinking also helped cut back on spending. Natural gas costs were slashed more than half and increases in medical premiums for employees came in lower than expected.

“All of that combined is what helped make us sustainable throughout a six-year plan,” said Mitchell.

While sales tax revenue is unpredictable, this money is expected to sustain Pierce Transit through 2019.

“It’s night and day,” said Ken Poulson, a member of the group “Reject Prop 1.”

This headline is surprising to those who were two proposed transit tax initiatives the last few years. While passing them would have returned service to pre-recession levels at around 622,000 hours, voters turned both down.

Service is currently at 417,000 hours.

“It was all doom and gloom. The world was going to fall if they didn’t get their money. And it didn’t fall,” said Paulson.

After the two initiatives failed, reductions in capital projects, staffing and service were made to soften the blow of a smaller budget.

“We asked that question twice, they said no twice and so we started to scale the system down,” said Mitchell.

“They found money, voters did their job and the agency did their job,” he said.

While service is still 200,000 hours less than what it was before, riders who rely on the bus like Rayleen Rodrigues-Salefia say they’re thankful for this turnaround.

“Much mahalo. Mahalo in Hawaii means thank you, thank you so much,” she said.

New community connector routes for Fife, Milton and Edgewood will also be added to the budget next year, which is expected to be approved December 9.

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